Imagine this situation: you are the director of a business in an environment that is constantly changing, thus compelling you take key decisions for the future of the business several times a year. You used to have to do this just once a year, and not so long ago once every 3 years! To do this you have to step back in order to take a sufficiently high-level view for strategic decision-making. At the same time however, in order to maintain the profitability of your business, it is essential to monitor all processes extremely closely and to immediately correct any deviation from the norm, which therefore means that you have to have your finger constantly on the pulse.
The natural response in such a situation consists of implementing a management system that empowers each level in the organization to deal with issues that fall within its scope of responsibility. All issues relating to day-to-day operations in the field must therefore be resolved by the operational teams working in this same field. Middle management will devote itself to arbitration and ensuring that solutions are coherent. As for your executive committee and yourself, since you will no longer be saturated with all of these “grass roots issues”, you will (at last) be able to take a sufficiently large step back in order to concentrate on your strategic decision-making.
Such a system is clearly a sensible one and is compliant with the standards of management systems that are traditionally acknowledged as being “good”.
So do this, but don’t just do this. Cheat a little. Deal with a certain number of field-related issues during your Executive Committee meetings, issues that are not within your normal realm of responsibility. Devote at least 15% of Executive Committee time to such issues.
A management team often believes that it is aware of problems encountered at field level, but the truth is, it doesn’t really know them (or at least not very well, or only very occasionally, or underestimates them). And the thing is, the people working in the field realize this. So, when the time comes for the management team to explain why it has taken such and such a decision, one that is of strategic importance for everyone’s future, and what’s more goes to great pains to outline the decision, it is roundly opposed by the stakeholders, who proclaim that “we don’t believe you, how can you possibly make the right decision, you have no idea of how things really work out here in the field”. Obviously they won’t express their discontent in these exact terms; in fact, they probably won’t speak their mind at all, but their behaviour will speak volumes: there will be a sense of apathy with regard to the expected change (a very annoying reaction, and at best disconcerting for the management team).
Dealing with day-to-day problems ensures that the people at the top keep abreast of the realities of life in the field, thus strengthening (or simply winning) employees’ faith in the management team’s ability to take judicious, well thought-out decisions.
It goes without saying that application of this principle requires the observance of certain key conditions; it also requires perseverance. But, with a minimum amount of care and attention, such an approach can be adopted within a short space of time.